The Archbishops of Canterbury and York launched a Lent appeal for Zimbabwe on Ash Wednesday, as Christians in Britain and beyond joined in a day of prayer and fasting for the troubled country.
Qobo Mayisa, general secretary of the Council of Zimbabwean Christian Leaders in the UK, a lead partner in an initiative called Love Zim, said: “We thank the Archbishops for their visionary leadership on the issue of Zimbabwe. Love Zim is calling on the entire British church to join the Anglicans in solidarity with the Archbishops’ call."
In a joint article in The Times newspaper, Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu spoke of how Zimbabwe was seen as a beacon of hope during the time of Apartheid in South Africa because it was able to feed itself and had kept its social cohesion and a democratic culture.
They said that the “destruction of many people’s hopes” was the worst of many casualties inflicted by President Robert Mugabe and his government. The country is now suffering from outbreaks of Cholera, Aids, hunger and massive inflation.
The Archbishops said there was a danger that people would “switch off” from the problems of Zimbabwe as the people there are suffering “a slow death...[which is] only intermittently newsworthy”.
They added, however, that the Anglican Church had been working to “challenge the tyranny of the Government and the apathy of neighbours” and that it had gone through a “quiet revolution” by sacking discredited bishops and supporting those with integrity.
This had come at a price, they said, with Anglican churches being targeted by government supporters and parishioners being beaten, harassed and arrested and given death threats.
The appeal for fasting came at the request of Anglican Primates who gathered for a key meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, at the end of January to discuss unity and other issues affecting the Anglican Communion.
The funds raised from the Archbishops' appeal will go towards emergency aid for thousands of people affected by widespread food shortages and an outbreak of cholera that has killed more than 3,800 people.
Addressing the Church of England General Synod in February 2009, Dr Williams said: “We hope that this will be part of a Communion-wide project for Lent, and that every diocese represented here will play its part, responding to the urgent calls for help with medical supplies, food and clean water which come daily from Zimbabwe. Please publicise this appeal in your dioceses and continue your prayers."
Primates at the Alexandria meeting appealed to Anglicans to donate whatever they could.
"If we don't intervene we will be failing God in terms of 'when I was hungry you fed me and when I was poor you cared for my needs,” said the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Rev Thabo Makgoba, at the time of the gathering.
In a statement, the Primates called on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to step down: “There appears to be a total disregard for life, consistently demonstrated by Mr Mugabe through systematic kidnap, torture and the killing of Zimbabwean people.
"We therefore call upon President Robert Mugabe to respect the outcome of the elections of 2008 and to step down. We call for the implementation of the rule of law and the restoration of democratic processes.”
Meanwhile, Love Zim was launched on the 14 February 2009, when Zimbabwean Christians and Love Zim supporters joined human rights campaigners in a Valentine’s Day vigil outside Zimbabwe’s embassy.
The London vigil came three days after Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai was sworn in as prime minister of a unity government, sharing power with President Robert Mugabe.
Christian leaders from the Love Zim coalition, representing among others the Evangelical Alliance, Tearfund, Council of Zimbabwean Christian leaders in the UK and Newfrontiers, signed and delivered a letter to the new unity government challenging Mr Mugabe to "redeem his name by loving the Zimbabwean people," and Mr Tsvangarai "to take the opportunity to provide leadership at this crucial time."
USPG is administering the appeal. To make a donation, go to www.uspg.org.uk
The Love Zim letter can be read in full here: http://tinyurl.com/cptdhs
The archbishops' full article can be read at: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2216